From Performance Management to Continuous Feedback

Jim Boomer

Jim Boomer

By Jim Boomer, Boomer Consulting

Enhancing employee engagement is a goal for many firms today. An employee who remains engaged throughout the year is better motivated, more productive and more dedicated to the firm than employees who are disengaged. One crucial way to improve employee engagement is switching from the traditional annual or bi-annual performance review model to continuous feedback.

Performance Management is Out

Firms are realizing more and more that performance reviews are an extremely time-consuming process that doesn’t necessarily produce the intended results. In an article for People + Strategy, a manager from Deloitte referred to the review process as “an investment of 1.8 million hours across the firm that didn’t fit our business needs anymore.”

The Big 4 firms aren’t the only ones spending a significant number of hours on performance reviews. According to research from CEB, across all industries and professions, the average manager spends 210 hours per year on performance-review related activities such as filling out forms and delivering evaluations.

All of that time is spent delivering feedback that, six or 12 months later, is stale, ineffective and frustrating for the recipient. Only 10% of non-millennial employees and 5% of Millennials find value in annual performance reviews. They’d rather know that you were unhappy with their performance when it happened so they can correct course in real-time.

As Kris Duggan, CEO and co-founder of BetterWorks wrote in Forbes, “Imagine if your FitBit gave you a step count at the end of the year instead of daily. How would you ever improve?”

How to Deliver Continuous Feedback

The main complaint we hear from firms that have not moved away from the performance review model is they can’t see how they’ll fit in more time for feedback when scheduling and conducting annual or bi-annual performance reviews already takes up so much time. But continuous feedback can actually be less time consuming than delivering performance reviews.

The After Action Reviews (AAR) is a concept that has trickled down from the U.S. Army to organizations all over the world. They’re less about reviewing performance and more about sharing knowledge and building a culture of accountability.

In the military, informal AARs happen after training events or projects, and they focus on discussing what happened, why it happened, and how such actions or projects can be done better in the future.

In a firm, AARs don’t have to be a time-consuming, formalized process of filling out evaluations and scheduling meetings. They can be much more informal, just a brief meeting after the conclusion of a significant project or engagement.

During the AAR, ask:

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • What were the positive and negative factors?
  • What did we learn and how can we do better next time?

Many modern technological solutions can help facilitate gathering this information. Inside HR recommends looking for a solution that can:

  • Deliver a single dashboard to easily review, search and filter all feedback you’ve been given, provided or requested.
  • Allow anyone to provide or request feedback for themselves or someone in their team – with notification and reminders for people
  • Categorize feedback – e.g., giving recognition versus coaching and mentoring
  • Link feedback to competencies and goals in an integrated talent system, so you can offer this feedback through structured monthly or quarterly check-ins.

Remember, this isn’t a performance review, but a teaching moment that enables timely behavior change and keeps employees focused on important goals. You may find that annual performance reviews are no longer necessary, but even if you continue to have some sort of yearly conversation, it will take less time and have fewer surprises.

Employees want to enjoy the work they do and feel confident that their work is valued and contributing to the firm’s strategic goals. The move to continuous feedback will make your employees happier and more productive. With the time saved, enhanced engagement and greater alignment with the firm’s goals, the death of the annual performance review can have a positive impact on your firm.

Jim Boomer, CEO of Boomer Consulting, Inc., is an expert on managing technology within an accounting firm. He serves as the director of the Boomer Technology Circles, The Advisor Circle and the CIO Circle. He also acts as a strategic planning and technology consultant and firm adviser to CPA firms across the country.